Memorial Day — remembering….
Sometimes, it’s just too much. I am expected to keep on working, hiking, writing poems and blogs, taking pictures, that this should be antidote enough.
It is not.
Part of me warns, do not send this post.
Another part knows that there are others for whom Holidays are ordeals. Shared Holidays. Holidays never to be shared again.
Even something so simple as a picnics, let alone a chance encounter with one of my daughters’ friends, brings up memories not to be borne, memories never to be re-lived, let alone expanded.
Loss of the highest magnitude is my fate, since the 1980’s.
It is said that the worst loss is the death of one’s children. There is something worse. – when they are taken from you. When, still alive, you do not exist to your children.
There isn’t a hike or a kayak or a trip anywhere on the planet that counters agony of this magnitude.
One of my daughter’s Princeton classmates brought about this tragedy. He, evidently, has recovered from it, and is restored to his family. Mine have heroically tried many routes to healing, and I honor them for it. But the brainwashing that severed them from the entire family remains indelible.
It happened because my girls cared about community service from the time they were very young. I worked at what was then called “The Old Folks Home.” Nobody calls it that any longer. I went there one day a week, to serve their patients.
My daughters’ two sets of grandparents were not with them in summertime — two settled into their native Switzerland, seeking various cures at baths that went back to the Romans. The others lived far away The girls wanted grandparents. So I took them with me every Wednesday. We didn’t have the concept of ‘virtual’, then. But this is what they sought.
Grown-up volunteers wore ghastly uniforms, a hideous hue, meaning nothing to wearer nor viewer. My girls wore bright dresses I had sewed. Both girls had that long Swiss luminous hair.
Barely anyone touched the patients. Board members would come and go, ducking right down to the Board Room, without going near a resident.
My girls skipped down the hall carrying the welcome mail, scurrying eagerly into each room, knowing everyone’s name. They went right up to each person, engaging no matter how gruff some of them could be.
The old people loved to see and touch the vivid dresses, stroke the blonde hair. I see now, the girls were life, were the future, grandchildren whom these people could not see, let alone touch.
We’d been warned not to try to talk to certain ones, let alone try get them to complete their menus (lunch and dinner). The eager girls could get through, even to the deaf, the stubborn and the blind. Each did know exactly what to eat, and the girls merrily marked it down, skipping triumphantly back to the front desk, bearing their trophies.
Relationships were built and they strengthened weekly. Everyone was crushed if I came without the girls that particular Wednesday.
We’d bring our guitars sometimes, and play simple, old-fashioned songs for them in the different sunrooms. They could sing right along. Some had forgotten almost everything, but not the words to those songs. They also liked “Puff the Magic Dragon”, and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” though those had not been part of their own young memories.
At Christmastime, we would bring the girls’ friends along, because those friends had witnessed the girls’ enthusiasm for this service. I think it was two different weekends, each year. One to decorate the trees with all the people sitting around in each sunroom. And one to sit by the lit trees and sing carols. One of those other children told me years later, “Mrs. Edelmann, of all the things we did with your family, doing the trees and singing the songs are my favorite memories.”
One woman patient was from Germany, so she sounded like the girls’ Swiss grandmother, A very strong connection was made with her, and with her o, so faithful, very proper and dignified husband, Dr. X.
One day the girls came scurrying back to me, for they made rounds alone by this time — those patients belonged to them. “Mommy, Mommy, something’s wrong with Mrs. X!,” they cried. “Come with us!” I asked, as we hurried back to the room, “How do you know?” “She keeps saying ‘schmerzen, schmerzen” they chorused. I murmured, “O, Honeys, that means pain.”
We could see that she was suffering, so much that all English had fled. We had his phone number, I don’t remember why. We called and told Dr. X and he came right over. Whatever that crisis was, passed. However, Mrs. X was not with us much longer. A few months after her death, we had a dear hand-written note from her husband, thanking us for caring so much about his wife, inviting us to a formal tea in his lovely, almost archaic, Princeton home.
Service always mattered to my girls, though they were so young at this point. In school, they took on official roles. In all schools, and sports, they shone. They cared about the community and its creatures, one, at seven dictating a letter to the editor of the Packet about deer in our town. The other learned sign language in school, used it to reach autistic children at what was then New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute every week. She later taught French with sign language to a student at a nearby New England college. Service always mattered.
The Princeton classmate took advantage of their need to make the world a better place. He ‘fed’ them to his guru. It has been decades since I, myself, have touched their shining hair, let alone hugged either daughter.
Memorial Day is the least of the family Holidays, in terms of painful memories. But it’s one more when we’re not together, when I can’t call them up and remember our backyard festivities in the Braeburn years.
Don’t let anyone insist you can get over loss. No. It grows. It leaps. It sabotages you when least expected.
Their guru taught all his captives that families are diabolic. What he meant by his lie was, all families who disapproved of the cult.
Bereaved parents have all my sympathy, always: No matter how or when they lose their dear ones, it’s always too soon.
Can you imagine that I envy other parents the funerals, even the flowers, gravesites where they may make pilgrimage?
When you’ve lost your children, every day is Memorial Day.
You don’t know how you are going to go on.
But you do.